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"There is no question of the coalition forces not knowing that their Iraqi comrades are doing this: the leaked war logs are the internal records of those forces. There is no question of the allegations all being false. Some clearly are, but most are supported by medical evidence and some involve incidents that were witnessed directly by coalition forces."
Possessing such evidence -- and knowing that the U.S. high command was systematically ignoring these and other crimes -- Manning was driven by a sense of morality to get the evidence to the American people and to the world.
For his act of conscience, Manning has become the subject of harsh incarceration himself, as some U.S. pundits and even members of Congress have called for his execution as a traitor. At minimum, however, he has been made an example to anyone else tempted to tell hard truths.
Many in Official Washington find nothing wrong with humiliating Manning with forced nudity and breaking down his psychiatric health through prolonged isolation. After all, they say, his release of classified information might have put the lives of some U.S. allies at risk (although there is no known evidence to support that concern).
There also are legal constraints upon the United States dishing out particularly nasty treatment to Pvt. Manning. Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners is expressly banned by the UN Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the Senate in 1994.
And there are no exceptions for "wartime" whistleblowers like Manning. Here's what the Convention says: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture" and "an order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture." (Art. 2 (2-3))
Personally, when I attended the Tuesday proceeding, I dreaded sitting through another "pre-trial hearing," having been bored stiff at earlier sessions. But it was a welcome surprise to witness first-hand proof that military courts can still hold orderly proceedings bereft (on Tuesday, at least) of "command influence."
Most illuminating at Tuesday's hearing was the central fact that the virtually indestructible nature of e-mail facilitates the kind of documentary evidence that lawyers lust after -- whether they be attorneys, FBI investigators or just plain folks fed up with lies and faux history.
To the Marine Corps' credit, I suppose, there was no evidence at the hearing that anyone had tried to expunge the e-mail correspondence revealing the fears about being left "holding the bag" on the harsh treatment of Manning.
E-Mail vs. Petraeus
So the availability of e-mail is the major new reality playing out in several major ways. As we have seen, former Gen. David Petraeus is a notable recent victim of the truth that can turn up in e-mail.
I used to call him "Petraeus ex Machina" for the faux-success of the celebrated "surge" in Iraq, which cost almost 1,000 additional U.S. troops dead (and many more Iraqis) to buy a "decent interval" for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney to get out of town without a clear-cut military defeat hung around their necks.
As it turned out, "Petraeus ex Machina," after a little more than a year as CIA director, was undone in a sex scandal exposed by the modern "machine" of e-mail.
More to the point, the torrent of e-mail and the "Collateral Murder" video that Manning now acknowledges giving to WikiLeaks as a matter of conscience were, of course, highly illuminating to students of real history. And the e-mails (and State Department cables) also were rather unflattering regarding the aims of U.S. policy and military actions around the globe.
So how did the White House, the State Department and military brass respond? There was a strongly felt need to make an object lesson of Bradley Manning to show what happens to people whose conscience prompts them to expose deceit and serious wrongdoing, especially through official documents that can't be denied or spun.